Chris Archer looked to exorcise his early-season demons in Friday night's series-opening game against the Evil Empire at Tropicana Field. Archer entered the contest 3-5 with a 5.16 ERA through his first ten starts of 2016. After getting raked over the coals by the Detroit Tigers his last time out, any effort beyond three innings and six earned runs would have been an improvement.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Archer deserves credit for taking some important strides in righting the ship as the dog days of summer approach. His velocity was where it needed to be and he paced the game very well.
Once again, it was the early going that plagued Archer the most. It didn't make his job any easier having to face Yankees' centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who came into Friday night 16-for-24 lifetime against Archer. True to form, Ellsbury smacked a 1-0 slider to shallow right, continuing his dominance over Archer and getting into his head. Archer immediately followed that with a walk to Brett Gardner. And they say the 27th out is the toughest. He was able to get two consecutive pop-outs before striking out Alex Rodriguez, making his first appearance after coming off of the DL, to end the first.
Archer's command steadily improved as the night went on, though it was far from the dominance we've come to expect from the Rays' ace.
He and Yankees' starter Masahiro Tanaka traded zeroes through the first five innings Friday night. It was the top of the sixth that saw Archer and the Rays' defense hit a pothole that jarred the game in New York's favor.
After getting his man Ellsbury to ground out, Archer again walked Brett Gardner. An attempted pickoff throw bounced low and got away from Rays' first baseman Logan Morrison. The ball took a weird bounce off the boards near the Rays' dugout and bounded into the bullpen. This allowed the speedy Gardner to get all the way to third with only one out.
Archer was able to get a perfect ground ball to second that held Gardner at third; however, rookie second baseman Taylor Motter fumbled the exchange from his glove to his throwing hand and allowed Carlos Beltran to reach. Even though the run didn't score here, the baseball gods don't look too kindly on giving your opponent extra outs.
Brian McCann grounded into a fielder's choice, scoring Gardner and bringing up A-Rod with one on and two outs. Of course, we've all seen this movie before; it just wouldn't be a Yankees @ Rays series without a massive A-Bomb from A-Rod. Archer left a fastball belt high and in and Rodriguez got every bit of it, sending it to the deepest part of the Trop in left center and onto the first level concourse under the Ducky's patio, 3-0 Yankees.
Tanaka continued to deal and the Rays' offense continued to struggle against him. Tanaka needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings. He only struck out four batters, but also only gave up two hits and didn't walk a single Rays' hitter before yielding to the dominant late game bullpen the Yankees currently feature.
Chris Archer would go eight innings, striking out seven Yankees batsmen and walking three. Along with the long shot by Rodriguez, Archer also gave up a line-drive home run to Beltran before departing.
The Toughest Part of the Game
Watching Archer on Friday night, and throughout this season, it's clear that Chris has been struggling with the toughest part of the game of baseball: the six inches between his ears. His issues are clearly mental in nature and, for an emotional, heart-on-his-sleeve pitcher like Archer, it's something that can either be corrected with time and success or magnified by a continued cycle of struggles.
Archer puts the weight of the entire team on his shoulders with every pitch and, when things don't break the Rays' way, those events add to that weight, leading to hiccups in mechanics, control issues, and more difficulty.
I think that tonight, though the score and the outcome didn't go Archer's way, can go a long way in helping him get back to the dominant ace that everyone is accustomed to. He showed that he could overcome struggles with his command and even reign in a hitter who has hit over .667 against him in his career. In fact, he was one bad inning away from potentially handing a shutout pitchers' duel over to the bullpen.
Another strong start with again fewer mental errors and we should see Chris Archer back to his old self just in time for the long summer ahead.
- Before flubbing the pickoff move that started the doomed sixth inning, Archer did masterfully pick off Ellsbury, who would go 0-for-2 the rest of the way after.
- Steve Pierce continued his hot hitting, ending the Yankees shutout on a homerun after a two-out, ten pitch at bat against former Ray Kirby Yates. We all knew he was due to give up a homerun anyway. Long live the Lakeland Launcher!
- Aroldis Chapman throws really hard. There's my astute analysis.
- That said, the home plate ump took a 100MPH fastball to the chest and didn't flinch; maybe he doesn't throw that hard after all.